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G.R. No.

147062-64 December 14, 2001

REPUBLIC OF THE PHILIPPINES, represented by the PRESIDENTIAL COMMISSION ON GOOD


GOVERNMENT (PCGG), petitioner,
vs.
COCOFED, ET AL. and BALLARES, ET AL.,1 EDUARDO M. COJUANGCO JR. and the SANDIGANBAYAN (First
Division) respondents.

PANGANIBAN, J.:

The right to vote sequestered shares of stock registered in the names of private individuals or entitles and alleged to
have been acquired with ill-gotten wealth shall, as a rule, be exercised by the registered owner. The PCGG may,
however, be granted such voting right provided in can (1) show prima facie evidence that the wealth and/or the
shares are indeed ill-gotten; and (2) demonstrate imminent danger of dissipation of the assets, thus necessitating
their continued sequestration and voting by the government until a decision, ruling with finality on their ownership, is
promulgated by the proper court.1âwphi1.nêt

However, the foregoing "two-tiered" test does not apply when the sequestered stocks are acquired with funds that
are prima facie public in character or, at least, are affected with public interest. Inasmuch as the subject UCPB shares
in the present case were undisputably acquired with coco levy funds which are public in character, then the right to
vote them shall be exercised by the PCGG. In sum, the "public character" test, not the "two-tiered" one, applies in the
instant controversy.

The Case

Before us is a Petition for Certiorari with a prayer for the issuance of a temporary restraining order and/or a writ of
preliminary injunction under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court, seeking to set aside the February 28, 2001 Order 2 of the
First Division of the Sandiganbayan3 in Civil Case Nos. 0033-A, 0033-B and 0033-F. The pertinent portions of the
assailed Order read as follows:

"In view hereof, the movants COCOFED, et al. and Ballares, et al. as well as Eduardo Cojuangco, et al.,
who were acknowledged to be registered stockholders of the UCPB are authorized, as are all other
registered stockholders of the United Coconut Planters Bank, until further orders from this Court, to exercise
their rights to vote their shares of stock and themselves to be voted upon in the United Coconut Planters
Bank (UCPB) at the scheduled Stockholders' Meeting on March 6, 2001 or on any subsequent continuation
or resetting thereof, and to perform such acts as will normally follow in the exercise of these rights as
registered stockholders.

"Since by way of form, the pleadings herein had been labeled as praying for an injunction, the right of the
movants to exercise their right as abovementioned will be subject to the posting of a nominal bond in the
amount of FIFTY THOUSAND PESOS (P50,000.00) jointly for the defendants COCOFED, et al. and
Ballares, et al., as well as all other registered stockholders of sequestered shares in that bank, and FIFTY
THOUSAND PESOS (P50,000.00) for Eduardo Cojuangco, Jr., et al., to answer for any undue damage or
injury to the United Coconut Planters Bank as may be attributed to their exercise of their rights as registered
stockholders."4

The Antecedents

The very roots of this case are anchored on the historic events that transpired during the change of government in
1986. Immediately after the 1986 EDSA Revolution, then President Corazon C. Aquino issued Executive Order (EO)
Nos. 1,5 26 and 14.7

"On the explicit premise that 'vast resources of the government have been amassed by former President Ferdinand
E. Marcos, his immediate family, relatives, and close associates both here and abroad,' the Presidential Commission
on Good Government (PCGG) was created by Executive Order No. 1 to assist the President in the recovery of the ill-
gotten wealth thus accumulated whether located in the Philippines or abroad." 8
Executive Order No. 2 states that the ill-gotten assets and properties are in the form of bank accounts, deposits, trust
accounts, shares of stocks, buildings, shopping centers, condominiums, mansions, residences, estates, and other
kinds of real and personal properties in the Philippines and in various countries of the world.9

Executive Order No. 14, on the other hand, empowered the PCGG, with the assistance of the Office of the Solicitor
General and other government agencies, inter alia, to file and prosecute all cases investigated by it under EO Nos. 1
and 2.

Pursuant to these laws, the PCGG issued and implemented numerous sequestrations, freeze orders and provisional
takeovers of allegedly ill-gotten companies, assets and properties, real or personal. 10

Among the properties sequestered by the Commission were shares of stock in the United Coconut Planters Bank
(UCPB) registered in the names of the alleged "one million coconut farmers," the so-called Coconut Industry
Investment Fund companies (CIIF companies) and Private Respondent Eduardo Cojuangco Jr. (hereinafter
"Cojuangco").

In connection with the sequestration of the said UCPB shares, the PCGG, on July 31, 1987, instituted an action for
reconveyance, reversion, accounting, restitution and damages docketed as Case No. 0033 in the Sandiganbayan.

On November 15, 1990, upon Motion11 of Private Respondent COCOFED, the Sandiganbayan issued a
Resolution12 lifting the sequestration of the subject UCPB shares on the ground that herein private respondents – in
particular, COCOFED and the so-called CIIF companies – had not been impleaded by the PCGG as parties-
defendants in its July 31, 1987 Complaint for reconveyance, reversion, accounting, restitution and damages. The
Sandiganbayan ruled that the Writ of Sequestration issued by the Commission was automatically lifted for PCGG's
failure to commence the corresponding judicial action within the six-month period ending on August 2, 1987 provided
under Section 26, Article XVIII of the 1987 Constitution. The anti-graft court noted that though these entities were
listed in an annex appended to the Complaint, they had not been named as parties-respondents.

This Sandiganbayan Resolution was challenged by the PCGG in a Petition for Certiorari docketed as GR No. 96073
in this Court. Meanwhile, upon motion of Cojuangco, the anti-graft court ordered the holding of elections for the Board
of Directors of UCPB. However, the PCGG applied for and was granted by this Court a Restraining Order enjoining
the holding of the election. Subsequently, the Court lifted the Restraining Order and ordered the UCPB to proceed
with the election of its board of directors. Furthermore, it allowed the sequestered shares to be voted by their
registered owners.

The victory of the registered shareholders was fleeting because the Court, acting on the solicitor general's Motion for
Clarification/Manifestation, issued a Resolution on February 16, 1993, declaring that "the right of petitioners [herein
private respondents] to vote stock in their names at the meetings of the UCPB cannot be conceded at this time. That
right still has to be established by them before the Sandiganbayan. Until that is done, they cannot be deemed
legitimate owners of UCPB stock and cannot be accorded the right to vote them."13 The dispositive portion of the said
Resolution reads as follows:

"IN VIEW OF THE FOREGOING, the Court recalls and sets aside the Resolution dated March 3, 1992 and,
pending resolution on the merits of the action at bar, and until further orders, suspends the effectivity of the
lifting of the sequestration decreed by the Sandiganbayan on November 15, 1990, and directs the
restoration of the status quo ante, so as to allow the PCGG to continue voting the shares of stock under
sequestration at the meetings of the United Coconut Planters Bank." 14

On January 23, 1995, the Court rendered its final Decision in GR No. 96073, nullifying and setting aside the
November 15, 1990 Resolution of the Sandiganbayan which, as earlier stated, lifted the sequestration of the subject
UCPB shares. The express impleading of herein Respondents COCOFED et al. was deemed unnecessary because
"the judgment may simply be directed against the shares of stock shown to have been issued in consideration of ill-
gotten wealth."15 Furthermore, the companies "are simply the res in the actions for the recovery of illegally acquires
wealth, and there is, in principle, no cause of action against them and no ground to implead them as defendants in
said case."16

A month thereafter, the PCGG – pursuant to an Order of the Sandiganbayan – subdivided Case No. 0033 into eight
Complaints and docketed them as Case Nos. 0033-A to 0033-H.
Six years later, on February 13, 2001, the Board of Directors of UCPB received from the ACCRA Law Office a letter
written on behalf of the COCOFED and the alleged nameless one million coconut farmers, demanding the holding of
a stockholders' meeting for the purpose of, among others, electing the board of directors. In response, the board
approved a Resolution calling for a stockholders' meeting on March 6, 2001 at three o'clock in the afternoon.

On February 23, 2001, "COCOFED, et al. and Ballares, et al." filed the "Class Action Omnibus Motion" 17 referred to
earlier in Sandiganbayan Civil Case Nos. 0033-A, 0033-B and 0033-F, asking the court a quo:

"1. To enjoin the PCGG from voting the UCPB shares of stock registered in the respective names of the
more than one million coconut farmers; and

"2. To enjoin the PCGG from voting the SMC shares registered in the names of the 14 CIIF holding
companies including those registered in the name of the PCGG."18

On February 28, 2001, respondent court, after hearing the parties on oral argument, issued the assailed Order.

Hence, this Petition by the Republic of the Philippines represented by the PCGG. 19

The case had initially been raffled to this Court's Third Division which, by a vote of 3-2,20 issued a
Resolution21requiring the parties to maintain the status quo existing before the issuance of the questioned
Sandiganbayan Order dated February 28, 2001. On March 7, 2001, Respondent COCOFED et al. moved that the
instant Petition be heard by the Court en banc.22 The Motion was unanimously granted by the Third Division.

On March 13, 2001, the Court en banc resolved to accept the Third Division's referral. 23 It heard the case on Oral
Argument in Baguio City on April 17, 2001. During the hearing, it admitted the intervention of a group of coconut
farmers and farm worker organizations, the Pambansang Koalisyon ng mga Samahang Magsasaka at Manggagawa
ng Niyugan (PKSMMN). The coalition claims that its members have been excluded from the benefits of the coconut
levy fund. Inter alia, it joined petitioner in praying for the exclusion of private respondents in voting the sequestered
shares.

Issues

Petitioner submits the following issues for our consideration:24

"A.

Despite the fact that the subject sequestered shares were purchased with coconut levy funds (which were
declared public in character) and the continuing effectivity of Resolution dated February 16, 1993 in G.R.
No. 96073 which allows the PCGG to vote said sequestered shares, Respondent Sandiganbayan, with
grave abuse of discretion, issued its Order dated February 20, 2001 enjoining PCGG from voting the
sequestered shares of stock in UCPB.

"B.

The Respondent Sandiganbayan violated petitioner's right to due process by taking cognizance of the Class
Action Omnibus Motion dated 23 February 2001 despite gross lack of sufficient notice and by issuing the
writ of preliminary injunction despite the obvious fact that there was no actual pressing necessity or urgency
to do so."

In its Resolution dated April 17, 2001, the Court defined the issue to be resolved in the instant case simply as follows:

This Court's Ruling

The Petition is impressed with merit.

Main Issue:
Who May Vote the Sequestered Shares of Stock?

Simply stated, the gut substantive issue to be resolved in the present Petition is: "Who may vote the sequestered
UCPB shares while the main case for their reversion to the State is pending in the Sandiganbayan?"

This Court holds that the government should be allowed to continue voting those shares inasmuch as they were
purchased with coconut levy funds – that are prima facie public in character or, at the very least, are "clearly affected
with public interest."

General Rule: Sequestered Shares

Are Voted by the Registered Holder

At the outset, it is necessary to restate the general rule that the registered owner of the shares of a corporation
exercises the right and the privilege of voting.25 This principle applies even to shares that are sequestered by the
government, over which the PCGG as a mere conservator cannot, as a general rule, exercise acts of dominion. 26On
the other hand, it is authorized to vote these sequestered shares registered in the names of private persons and
acquired with allegedly ill-gotten wealth, if it is able to satisfy the two-tiered test devised by the Court in Cojuangco v.
Calpo27 and PCGG v. Cojuangco Jr.,28 as follows:

(1) Is there prima facie evidence showing that the said shares are ill-gotten and thus belong to the State?

(2) Is there an imminent danger of dissipation, thus necessitating their continued sequestration and voting by
the PCGG, while the main issue is pending with the Sandiganbayan?

Sequestered Shares Acquired with Public Funds are an Exception

From the foregoing general principle, the Court in Baseco v. PCGG29 (hereinafter "Baseco") and Cojuangco Jr. v.
Roxas30 ("Cojuangco-Roxas") has provided two clear "public character" exceptions under which the government is
granted the authority to vote the shares:

(1) Where government shares are taken over by private persons or entities who/which registered them in
their own names, and

(2) Where the capitalization or shares that were acquired with public funds somehow landed in private
hands.

The exceptions are based on the common-sense principle that legal fiction must yield to truth; that public property
registered in the names of non-owners is affected with trust relations; and that the prima facie beneficial owner should
be given the privilege of enjoying the rights flowing from the prima facie fact of ownership.

In Baseco, a private corporation known as the Bataan Shipyard and Engineering Co. was placed under sequestration
by the PCGG. Explained the Court:

"The facts show that the corporation known as BASECO was owned and controlled by President Marcos
'during his administration, through nominees, by taking undue advantage of his public office and/or using his
powers, authority, or influence,' and that it was by and through the same means, that BASECO had taken
over the business and/or assets of the National Shipyard and Engineering Co., Inc., and other government-
owned or controlled entities."31

Given this factual background, the Court discussed PCGG's right over BASECO in the following manner:

"Now, in the special instance of a business enterprise shown by evidence to have been 'taken over by the
government of the Marcos Administration or by entities or persons close to former President Marcos,' the
PCGG is given power and authority, as already adverted to, to 'provisionally take (it) over in the public
interest or to prevent * * (its) disposal or dissipation;' and since the term is obviously employed in reference
to going concerns, or business enterprises in operation, something more than mere physical custody is
connoted; the PCGG may in this case exercise some measure of control in the operation, running, or
management of the business itself."32

Citing an earlier Resolution, it ruled further:

"Petitioner has failed to make out a case of grave abuse or excess of jurisdiction in respondents' calling and
holding of a stockholders' meeting for the election of directors as authorized by the Memorandum of the
President * * (to the PCGG) dated June 26, 1986, particularly, where as in this case, the government can,
through its designated directors, properly exercise control and management over what appear to be
properties and assets owned and belonging to the government itself and over which the persons who
appear in this case on behalf of BASECO have failed to show any right or even any shareholding in said
corporation."33 (Italics supplied)

The Court granted PCGG the right to vote the sequestered shares because they appeared to be "assets belonging to
the government itself." The Concurring Opinion of Justice Ameurfina A. Melencio-Herrera, in which she was joined by
Justice Florentino P. Feliciano, explained this principle as follows:

"I have no objection to according the right to vote sequestered stock in case of a take-over of business
actually belonging to the government or whose capitalization comes from public funds but which, somehow,
landed in the hands of private persons, as in the case of BASECO. To my mind, however, caution and
prudence should be exercised in the case of sequestered shares of an on-going private business enterprise,
specially the sensitive ones, since the true and real ownership of said shares is yet to be determined and
proven more conclusively by the Courts."34 (Italics supplied)

The exception was cited again by the Court in Cojuangco-Roxas35 in this wise:

"The rule in this jurisdiction is, therefore, clear. The PCGG cannot perform acts of strict ownership of
sequestered property. It is a mere conservator. It may not vote the shares in a corporation and elect the
members of the board of directors. The only conceivable exception is in a case of a takeover of a business
belonging to the government or whose capitalization comes from public funds, but which landed in private
hands as in BASECO."36 (Italics supplied)

The "public character" test was reiterated in many subsequent cases; most recently, in Antiporda v.
Sandiganbayan.37 Expressly citing Conjuangco-Roxas,38 this Court said that in determining the issue of whether the
PCGG should be allowed to vote sequestered shares, it was crucial to find out first whether these were purchased
with public funds, as follows:

"It is thus important to determine first if the sequestered corporate shares came from public funds that
landed in private hands."39

In short, when sequestered shares registered in the names of private individuals or entities are alleged to have been
acquired with ill-gotten wealth, then the two-tiered test is applied. However, when the sequestered shares in the
name of private individuals or entities are shown, prima facie, to have been (1) originally government shares, or (2)
purchased with public funds or those affected with public interest, then the two-tiered test does not apply. Rather, the
public character exceptions in Baseco v. PCGG and Cojuangco Jr. v. Roxas prevail; that is, the government shall
vote the shares.

UCPB Shares Were Acquired With Coconut Levy Funds

In the present case before the Court, it is not disputed that the money used to purchase the sequestered UCPB
shares came from the Coconut Consumer Stabilization Fund (CCSF), otherwise known as the coconut levy funds.

This fact was plainly admitted by private respondent's counsel, Atty. Teresita J. Herbosa, during the Oral Arguments
held on April 17, 2001 in Baguio City, as follows:

"Justice Panganiban:
"In regard to the theory of the Solicitor General that the funds used to purchase [both] the original 28 million
and the subsequent 80 million came from the CCSF, Coconut Consumers Stabilization Fund, do you agree
with that?

"Atty. Herbosa:

"Yes, Your Honor.

xxx xxx xxx

"Justice Panganiban:

"So it seems that the parties [have] agreed up to that point that the funds used to purchase 72% of the
former First United Bank came from the Coconut Consumer Stabilization Fund?

"Atty. Herbosa:

"Yes, Your Honor."40

Indeed in Cocofed v. PCGG,41 this Court categorically declared that the UCPB was acquired "with the use of
the Coconut Consumers Stabilization Fund in virtue of Presidential Decree No. 755, promulgated on July 29,
1975."

Coconut Levy Funds Are Affected With Public Interest

Having conclusively shown that the sequestered UCPB shares were purchased with coconut levies, we hold that
these funds and shares are, at the very least, "affected with public interest."

The Resolution issued by the Court on February 16, 1993 in Republic v. Sandiganbayan42 stated that coconut levy
funds were "clearly affected with public interest"; thus, herein private respondents – even if they are the registered
shareholders – cannot be accorded the right to vote them. We quote the said Resolution in part, as follows:

"The coconut levy funds being 'clearly affected with public interest, it follows that the corporations formed
and organized from those funds, and all assets acquired therefrom should also be regarded as 'clearly
affected with public interest.'"43

xxx xxx xxx

"Assuming, however, for purposes of argument merely, the lifting of sequestration to be correct, may it also
be assumed that the lifting of sequestration removed the character of the coconut levy companies of being
affected with public interest, so that they and their stock and assets may now be considered to be of private
ownership? May it be assumed that the lifting of sequestration operated to relieve the holders of stock in the
coconut levy companies – affected with public interest – of the obligation of proving how that stock had been
legitimately transferred to private ownership, or that those stockholders who had had some part in the
collection, administration, or disposition of the coconut levy funds are now deemed qualified to acquire said
stock, and freed from any doubt or suspicion that they had taken advantage of their special or fiduciary
relation with the agencies in charge of the coconut levies and the funds thereby accumulated? The obvious
answer to each of the questions is a negative one. It seems plain that the lifting of sequestration has no
relevance to the nature of the coconut levy companies or their stock or property, or to the legality of the
acquisition by private persons of their interest therein, or to the latter's capacity or disqualification to acquire
stock in the companies or any property acquired from coconut levy funds.

"This being so, the right of the [petitioners] to vote stock in their names at the meetings of the UCPB cannot
be conceded at this time. That right still has to be established by them before the Sandiganbayan. Until that
is done, they cannot be deemed legitimate owners of UCPB stock and cannot be accorded the right to vote
them."44 (Italics supplied)
It is however contended by respondents that this Resolution was in the nature of a temporary restraining order. As
such, it was supposedly interlocutory in character and became functus oficio when this Court decided GR No. 96073
on January 23, 1995.

This argument is aptly answered by petitioner in its Memorandum, which we quote:

"The ruling made in the Resolution dated 16 February 1993 confirming the public nature of the coconut levy
funds and denying claimants their purported right to vote is an affirmation of doctrines laid down in the cases
of COCOFED v. PCGG supra, Baseco v. PCGG, supra, and Cojuangco v. Roxas, supra. Therefore it is of
no moment that the Resolution dated 16 February 1993 has not been ratified. Its jurisprudential based
remain."45 (Italics supplied)

To repeat, the foregoing juridical situation has not changed. It is still the truth today: "the coconut levy funds are
clearly affected with public interest." Private respondents have not "demonstrated satisfactorily that they have
legitimately become private funds."

If private respondents really and sincerely believed that the final Decision of the Court in Republic v.
Sandiganbayan(GR No. 96073, promulgated on January 23, 1995) granted them the right to vote, why did they wait
for the lapse of six long years before definitively asserting it (1) through their letter dated February 13, 2001,
addressed to the UCPB Board of Directors, demanding the holding of a shareholders' meeting on March 6, 2001; and
(2) through their Omnibus Motion dated February 23, 2001 filed in the court a quo, seeking to enjoin PCGG from
voting the subject sequestered shares during the said stockholders' meeting? Certainly, if they even half believed
their submission now – that they already had such right in 1995 – why are they suddenly and imperiously claiming
it only now?

It should be stressed at this point that the assailed Sandiganbayan Order dated February 28, 2001 – allowing private
respondents to vote the sequestered shares – is not based on any finding that the coconut levies and the shares
have "legitimately become private funds." Neither is it based on the alleged lifting of the TRO issued by this Court on
February 16, 1993. Rather, it is anchored on the grossly mistaken application of the two-tiered test mentioned earlier
in this Decision.

To stress, the two-tiered test is applied only when the sequestered asset in the hands of a private person is alleged to
have been acquired with ill-gotten wealth. Hence, in PCGG v. Cojuangco,47 we allowed Eduardo Cojuangco Jr. to
vote the sequestered shares of the San Miguel Corporation (SMC) registered in his name but alleged to have been
acquired with ill-gotten wealth. We did so on his representation that he had acquired them with borrowed
funds and upon failure of the PCGG to satisfy the "two-tiered" test. This test was, however, not applied to
sequestered SMC shares that were purchased with coco levy funds.

In the present case, the sequestered UCPB shares are confirmed to have been acquired with coco levies, not with
alleged ill-gotten wealth. Hence, by parity of reasoning, the right to vote them is not subject to the "two-tiered test" but
to the public character of their acquisition, which per Antiporda v. Sandiganbayan cited earlier, must first be
determined.

Coconut Levy Funds Are Prima Facie Public Funds

To avoid misunderstanding and confusion, this Court will even be more categorical and positive than its earlier
pronouncements: the coconut levy funds are not only affected with public interest; they are, in fact, prima
facie public funds.

Public funds are those moneys belonging to the State or to any political subdivision of the State; more specifically,
taxes, customs duties and moneys raised by operation of law for the support of the government or for the discharge
of its obligations.48 Undeniably, coconut levy funds satisfy this general definition of public funds, because of the
following reasons:

1. Coconut levy funds are raised with the use of the police and taxing powers of the State.

2. They are levies imposed by the State for the benefit of the coconut industry and its farmers.
3. Respondents have judicially admitted that the sequestered shares were purchased with public funds.

4. The Commission on Audit (COA) reviews the use of coconut levy funds.

5. The Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR), with the acquiescence of private respondents, has treated them as
public funds.

6. The very laws governing coconut levies recognize their public character.

We shall now discuss each of the foregoing reasons, any one of which is enough to show their public character.

1. Coconut Levy Funds Are Raised Through the State's Police and Taxing Powers.

Indeed, coconut levy funds partake of the nature of taxes which, in general, are enforced proportional contributions
from persons and properties, exacted by the State by virtue of its sovereignty for the support of government and for
all public needs.49

Based on this definition, a tax has three elements, namely: a) it is an enforced proportional contribution from persons
and properties; b) it is imposed by the State by virtue of its sovereignty; and c) it is levied for the support of the
government. The coconut levy funds fall squarely into these elements for the following reasons:

(a) They were generated by virtue of statutory enactments imposed on the coconut farmers requiring the
payment of prescribed amounts. Thus, PD No. 276, which created the Coconut Consumer Stabilization
Fund (CCSF), mandated the following:

"a. A levy, initially, of P15.00 per 100 kilograms of copra resecada or its equivalent in other coconut
products, shall be imposed on every first sale, in accordance with the mechanics established under RA
6260, effective at the start of business hours on August 10, 1973.

"The proceeds from the levy shall be deposited with the Philippine National Bank or any other government
bank to the account of the Coconut Consumers Stabilization Fund, as a separate trust fund which shall not
form part of the general fund of the government."50

The coco levies were further clarified in amendatory laws, specifically PD No. 961 51 and PD No. 146852 – in
this wise:

"The Authority (Philippine Coconut Authority) is hereby empowered to impose and collect a levy, to be
known as the Coconut Consumers Stabilization Fund Levy, on every one hundred kilos of copra resecada,
or its equivalent in other coconut products delivered to, and/or purchased by, copra exporters, oil millers,
desiccators and other end-users of copra or its equivalent in other coconut products. The levy shall be paid
by such copra exporters, oil millers, desiccators and other end-users of copra or its equivalent in other
coconut products under such rules and regulations as the Authority may prescribe. Until otherwise
prescribed by the Authority, the current levy being collected shall be continued." 53

Like other tax measures, they were not voluntary payments or donations by the people. They were enforced
contributions exacted on pain of penal sanctions, as provided under PD No. 276:

"3. Any person or firm who violates any provision of this Decree or the rules and regulations promulgated
thereunder, shall, in addition to penalties already prescribed under existing administrative and special law,
pay a fine of not less than P2,500 or more than P10,000, or suffer cancellation of licenses to operate, or
both, at the discretion of the Court."54

Such penalties were later amended thus:

"Whenever any person or entity willfully and deliberately violates any of the provisions of this Act, or any rule
or regulation legally promulgated hereunder by the Authority, the person or persons responsible for such
violation shall be punished by a fine of not more than P20,000.00 and by imprisonment of not more than five
years. If the offender be a corporation, partnership or a juridical person, the penalty shall be imposed on the
officer or officers authorizing, permitting or tolerating the violation. Aliens found guilty of any offenses shall,
after having served his sentence, be immediately deported and, in the case of a naturalized citizen, his
certificate of naturalization shall be cancelled."55

(b) The coconut levies were imposed pursuant to the laws enacted by the proper legislative authorities of the
State. Indeed, the CCSF was collected under PD No. 276, issued by former President Ferdinand E. Marcos
who was then exercising legislative powers.56

(c) They were clearly imposed for a public purpose. There is absolutely no question that they were collected
to advance the government's avowed policy of protecting the coconut industry. This Court takes judicial
notice of the fact that the coconut industry is one of the great economic pillars of our nation, and coconuts
and their byproducts occupy a leading position among the country's export products; that it gives
employment to thousands of Filipinos; that it is a great source of the state's wealth; and that it is one of the
important sources of foreign exchange needed by our country and, thus, pivotal in the plans of a government
committed to a policy of currency stability.

Taxation is done not merely to raise revenues to support the government, but also to provide means for the
rehabilitation and the stabilization of a threatened industry, which is so affected with public interest as to be within the
police power of the State, as held in Caltex Philippines v. COA57 and Osmeña v. Orbos.58

Even if the money is allocated for a special purpose and raised by special means, it is still public in character. In the
case before us, the funds were even used to organize and finance State offices. In Cocofed v. PCGG,59 the Court
observed that certain agencies or enterprises "were organized and financed with revenues derived from coconut
levies imposed under a succession of laws of the late dictatorship x x x with deposed Ferdinand Marcos and his
cronies as the suspected authors and chief beneficiaries of the resulting coconut industry monopoly."60 The Court
continued: "x x x. It cannot be denied that the coconut industry is one of the major industries supporting the national
economy. It is, therefore, the State's concern to make it a strong and secure source not only of the livelihood of a
significant segment of the population, but also of export earnings the sustained growth of which is one of the
imperatives of economic stability. x x x."61

2. Coconut Funds Are Levied for the Benefit of the Coconut Industry and Its Farmers.

Just like the sugar levy funds, the coconut levy funds constitute state funds even though they may be held for a
special public purpose.

In fact, Executive Order No. 481 dated May 1, 1998 specifically likens the coconut levy funds to the sugar levy
funds, both being special public funds acquired through the taxing and police powers of the State. The sugar
levy funds, which are strikingly similar to the coconut levies in their imposition and purpose, were declared public
funds by this Court in Gaston v. Republic Planters Bank,62 from which we quote:

"The stabilization fees collected are in the nature of a tax which is within the power of the state to impose for
the promotion of the sugar industry (Lutz vs. Araneta, 98 Phil. 148). They constitute sugar liens (Sec. 7[b],
P.D. No. 388). The collections made accrue to a 'Special Fund,' a 'Development and Stabilization Fund,'
almost identical to the 'Sugar Adjustment and Stabilization Fund' created under Section 6 of Commonwealth
Act 567. The tax collected is not in a pure exercise of the taxing power. It is levied with a regulatory purpose,
to provide means for the stabilization of the sugar industry. The levy is primarily in the exercise of the police
power of the State. (Lutz vs. Araneta, supra.)."63

The Court further explained:64

"The stabilization fees in question are levied by the State upon sugar millers, planters and producers for a
special purpose – that of 'financing the growth and development of the sugar industry and all its
components, stabilization of the domestic market including the foreign market.' The fact that the State has
taken possession of moneys pursuant to law is sufficient to constitute them as state funds, even though they
are held for a special purpose (Lawrence v. American Surety Co., 263 Mich 586. 294 ALR 535, cited in 42
Am. Jur., Sec. 2., p. 718). Having been levied for a special purpose, the revenues collected are to be treated
as a special fund, to be, in the language of the statute, 'administered in trust' for the purpose intended. Once
the purpose has been fulfilled or abandoned, the balance, if any, is to be transferred to the general funds of
the Government. That is the essence of the trust intended (see 1987 Constitution, Art. VI, Sec. 29[3], lifted
from the 1935 Constitution, Article VI, Sec. 23[1]. (Italics supplied)

"The character of the Stabilization Fund as a special fund is emphasized by the fact that the funds are
deposited in the Philippine National Bank and not in the Philippine Treasury, moneys from which may be
paid out only in pursuance of an appropriation made by law (1987 Constitution, Article VI, Sec. 29[1], 1973
Constitution, Article VIII, Sec. 18[1]).

"That the fees were collected from sugar producers, planters and millers, and that the funds were channeled
to the purchase of shares of stock in respondent Bank do not convert the funds into a trust fund for their
benefit nor make them the beneficial owners of the shares so purchased. It is but rational that the fees be
collected from them since it is also they who are to be benefited from the expenditure of the funds derived
from it. The investment in shares of respondent Bank is not alien to the purpose intended because of the
Bank's character as a commodity bank for sugar conceived for the industry's growth and development.
Furthermore, of note is the fact that one-half (1/2) or P0.50 per picul, of the amount levied under P.D. No.
388 is to be utilized for the 'payment of salaries and wages of personnel, fringe benefits and allowances of
officers and employees of PHILSUCOM' thereby immediately negating the claim that the entire amount
levied is in trust for sugar, producers, planters and millers.

"To rule in petitioners' favor would contravene the general principle that revenues derived from taxes cannot
be used for purely private purposes or for the exclusive benefit of private persons. The Stabilization Fund is
to be utilized for the benefit of the entire sugar industry, 'and all its components, stabilization of the domestic
market including the foreign market,' the industry being of vital importance to the country's economy and to
national interest."

In the same manner, this Court has also ruled that the oil stabilization funds were public in character and subject to
audit by COA. It ruled in this wise:

"Hence, it seems clear that while the funds collected may be referred to as taxes, they are exacted in the
exercise of the police power of the State. Moreover, that the OPSF is a special fund is plain from the special
treatment given it by E.O. 137. It is segregated from the general fund; and while it is placed in what the law
refers to as a 'trust liability account,' the fund nonetheless remains subject to the scrutiny and review of the
COA. The Court is satisfied that these measures comply with the constitutional description of a 'special
fund.' Indeed, the practice is not without precedent." 65

In his Concurring Opinion in Kilosbayan v. Guingona,66 Justice Florentino P. Feliciano explained that the funds raised
by the On-line Lottery System were also public in nature. In his words:

"x x x. In the case presently before the Court, the funds involved are clearly public in nature. The funds to be
generated by the proposed lottery are to be raised from the population at large. Should the proposed
operation be as successful as its proponents project, those funds will come from well-nigh every town and
barrio of Luzon. The funds here involved are public in another very real sense: they will belong to the PCSO,
a government owned or controlled corporation and an instrumentality of the government and are destined for
utilization in social development projects which, at least in principle, are designed to benefit the general
public. x x x. The interest of a private citizen in seeing to it that public funds, from whatever source they may
have been derived, go only to the uses directed and permitted by law is as real and personal and substantial
as the interest of a private taxpayer in seeing to it that tax monies are not intercepted on their way to the
public treasury or otherwise diverted from uses prescribed or allowed by law. It is also pertinent to note that
the more successful the government is in raising revenues by non-traditional methods such as PAGCOR
operations and privatization measures, the lesser will be the pressure upon the traditional sources of public
revenues, i.e., the pocket books of individual taxpayers and importers." 67

Thus, the coconut levy funds – like the sugar levy and the oil stabilization funds, as well as the monies generated by
the On-line Lottery System – are funds exacted by the State. Being enforced contributions, the are prima faciepublic
funds.

3. Respondents Judicially Admit That the Levies Are Government Funds.


Equally important as the fact that the coconut levy funds were raised through the taxing and police powers of the
State is respondents' effective judicial admission that these levies are government funds. As shown by the
attachments to their pleadings,68 respondents concede that the Coconut Consumers Stabilization Fund (CCSF) and
the Coconut Investment Development Fund "constitute government funds x x x for the benefit of coconut farmers."

"Collections on both levies constitute government funds. However, unlike other taxes that the Government
levies and collects such as income tax, tariff and customs duties, etc., the collections on the CCSF and
CIDF are, by express provision of the laws imposing them, for a definite purpose, not just for any
governmental purpose. As stated above part of the collections on the CCSF levy should be spent for the
benefit of the coconut farmers. And in respect of the collections on the CIDF levy, P.D. 582 mandatorily
requires that the same should be spent exclusively for the establishment, operation and maintenance of a
hybrid coconut seed garden and the distribution, for free, to the coconut farmers of the hybrid coconut
seednuts produced from that seed garden.

"On the other hand, the laws which impose special levies on specific industries, for example on the mining
industry, sugar industry, timber industry, etc., do not, by their terms, expressly require that the collections on
those levies be spent exclusively for the benefit of the industry concerned. And if the enabling law thus so
provide, the fact remains that the governmental agency entrusted with the duty of implementing the purpose
for which the levy is imposed is vested with the discretionary power to determine when and how the
collections should be appropriated."69

4. The COA Audit Shows the Public Nature of the Funds.

Under COA Office Order No. 86-9470 dated April 15, 1986,70 the COA reviewed the expenditure and use of the
coconut levies allocated for the acquisition of the UCPB. The audit was aimed at ascertaining whether these were
utilized for the purpose for which they had been intended. 71 Under the 1987 Constitution, the powers of the COA are
as follows:

"The Commission on Audit shall have the power, authority, and duty to examine, audit, and settle all
accounts pertaining to the revenue and receipts of, and expenditures or uses of funds and property, owned
or held in trust by, or pertaining to, the Government, or any of its subdivisions, agencies, or instrumentalities
x x x."72

Because these funds have been subjected to COA audit, there can be no other conclusion than that are prima
faciepublic in character.

5. The BIR Has Pronounced That the Coconut Levy Funds Are Taxes.

In response to a query posed by the administrator of the Philippine Coconut Authority regarding the character of the
coconut levy funds, the Bureau of Internal Revenue has affirmed that these funds are public in character. It held as
follows: "[T]he coconut levy is not a public trust fund for the benefit of the coconut farmers, but is in the nature of a tax
and, therefore, x x x public funds that are subject to government administration and disposition."73

Furthermore, the executive branch treats the coconut levies as public funds. Thus, Executive Order No. 277, issued
on September 24, 1995, directed the mode of treatment, utilization, administration and management of the coconut
levy funds. It provided as follows:

'(a) The coconut levy funds, which include all income, interests, proceeds or profits derived therefrom, as
well as all assets, properties and shares of stocks procured or obtained with the use of such funds, shall be
treated, utilized, administered and managed as public funds consistent with the uses and purposes under
the laws which constituted them and the development priorities of the government, including the
government's coconut productivity, rehabilitation, research extension, farmers organizations, and market
promotions programs, which are designed to advance the development of the coconut industry and the
welfare of the coconut farmers."74 (Italics supplied)

Doctrinally, acts of the executive branch are prima facie valid and binding, unless declared unconstitutional or
contrary to law.
6. Laws Governing Coconut Levies Recognize Their Public Nature.

Finally and tellingly, the very laws governing the coconut levies recognize their public character. Thus, the
third Whereas clause of PD No. 276 treats them as special funds for a specific public purpose. Furthermore, PD No.
711 transferred to the general funds of the State all existing special and fiduciary funds including the CCSF. On the
other hand, PD No. 1234 specifically declared the CCSF as a special fund for a special purpose, which should be
treated as a special account in the National Treasury.

Moreover, even President Marcos himself, as the sole legislative/executive authority during the martial law years,
struck off the phrase which is a private fund of the coconut farmers from the original copy of Executive Order No. 504
dated May 31, 1978, and we quote:

"WHEREAS, by means of the Coconut Consumers Stabilization Fund ('CCSF'), which is the private fund
of the coconut farmers (deleted), essential coconut-based products are made available to household
consumers at socialized prices." (Emphasis supplied)

The phrase in bold face -- which is the private fund of the coconut farmers – was crossed out and duly initialed by
its author, former, President Marcos. This deletion, clearly visible in "Attachment C" of petitioner's
Memorandum,75 was a categorical legislative intent to regard the CCSF as public, not private, funds.

Having Been Acquired With Public Funds, UCPB Shares Belong, Prima Facie, to the Government

Having shown that the coconut levy funds are not only affected with public interest, but are in fact prima facie public
funds, this Court believes that the government should be allowed to vote the questioned shares, because they belong
to it as the prima facie beneficial and true owner.

As stated at the beginning, voting is an act of dominion that should be exercised by the share owner. One of the
recognized rights of an owner is the right to vote at meetings of the corporation. The right to vote is classified as the
right to control.76 Voting rights may be for the purpose of, among others, electing or removing directors, amending a
charter, or making or amending by laws.77 Because the subject UCPB shares were acquired with government funds,
the government becomes their prima facie beneficial and true owner.

Ownership includes the right to enjoy, dispose of, exclude and recover a thing without limitations other than those
established by law or by the owner.78 Ownership has been aptly described as the most comprehensive of all real
rights.79 And the right to vote shares is a mere incident of ownership. In the present case, the government has been
shown to be the prima facie owner of the funds used to purchase the shares. Hence, it should be allowed the rights
and privileges flowing from such fact.

And paraphrasing Cocofed v. PCGG, already cited earlier, the Republic should continue to vote those shares until
and unless private respondents are able to demonstrate, in the main cases pending before the Sandiganbayan, that
"they [the sequestered UCPB shares] have legitimately become private."

Procedural and Incidental Issues:

Grave Abuse of Discretion, Improper Arguments and Intervenors' Relief

Procedurally, respondents argue that petitioner has failed to demonstrate that the Sandiganbayan committed grave
abuse of discretion, a demonstration required in every petition under Rule 65.80

We disagree. We hold that the Sandiganbayan gravely abused its discretion when it contravened the rulings of this
Court in Baseco and Cojuangco-Roxas – thereby unlawfully, capriciously and arbitrarily depriving the government of
its right to vote sequestered shares purchased with coconut levy funds which are prima facie public funds.

Indeed, grave abuse of discretion may arise when a lower court or tribunal violates or contravenes the Constitution,
the law or existing jurisprudence. In one case,81 this Court ruled that the lower court's resolution was "tantamount to
overruling a judicial pronouncement of the highest Court x x x and unmistakably a very grave abuse of discretion." 82
The Public Character of Shares Is a Valid Issue

Private respondents also contend that the public nature of the coconut levy funds was not raised as an issue before
the Sandiganbayan. Hence, it could not be taken up before this Court.

Again we disagree. By ruling that the two-tiered test should be applied in evaluating private respondents' claim of
exercising voting rights over the sequestered shares, the Sandiganbayan effectively held that the subject assets were
private in character. Thus, to meet this issue, the Office of the Solicitor General countered that the shares were not
private in character, and that quite the contrary, they were and are public in nature because they were acquired with
coco levy funds which are public in character. In short, the main issue of who may vote the shares cannot be
determined without passing upon the question of the public/private character of the shares and the funds used to
acquire them. The latter issue, although not specifically raised in the Court a quo, should still be resolved in order to
fully adjudicate the main issue.

Indeed, this Court has "the authority to waive the lack of proper assignment of errors if the unassigned errors closely
relate to errors properly pinpointed out or if the unassigned errors refer to matters upon which the determination of
the questions raised by the errors properly assigned depend." 83

Therefore, "where the issues already raised also rest on other issues not specifically presented as long as the latter
issues bear relevance and close relation to the former and as long as they arise from matters on record, the Court
has the authority to include them in its discussion of the controversy as well as to pass upon them."84

No Positive Relief For Intervenors

Intervenors anchor their interest in this case on an alleged right that they are trying to enforce in another
Sandiganbayan case docketed as SB Case No. 0187.85 In that case, they seek the recovery of the subject UCPB
shares from herein private respondents and the corporations controlled by them. Therefore, the rights sought to be
protected and the reliefs prayed for by intervenors are still being litigated in the said case. The purported rights they
are invoking are mere expectancies wholly dependent on the outcome of that case in the Sandiganbayan.

Clearly, we cannot rule on intervenors' alleged right to vote at this time and in this case. That right is dependent upon
the Sandiganbayan's resolution of their action for the recovery of said sequestered shares. Given the patent fact that
intervenors are not registered stockholders of UCPB as of the moment, their asserted rights cannot be ruled upon in
the present proceedings. Hence, no positive relief can be given them now, except insofar as they join petitioner in
barring private respondents from voting the subject shares.

Epilogue

In sum, we hold that the Sandiganbayan committed grave abuse of discretion in grossly contradicting and effectively
reversing existing jurisprudence, and in depriving the government of its right to vote the sequestered UCPB shares
which are prima facie public in character.

In making this ruling, we are in no way preempting the proceedings the Sandiganbayan may conduct or the final
judgment it may promulgate in Civil Case Nos. 0033-A, 0033-B and 0033-F. Our determination here is merely prima
facie, and should not bar the anti-graft court from making a final ruling, after proper trial and hearing, on the issues
and prayers in the said civil cases, particularly in reference to the ownership of the subject shares.

We also lay down the caveat that, in declaring the coco levy funds to be prima facie public in character, we are not
ruling in any final manner on their classification – whether they are general or trust or special funds – since such
classification is not at issue here. Suffice it to say that the public nature of the coco levy funds is decreed by the Court
only for the purpose of determining the right to vote the shares, pending the final outcome of the said civil cases.

Neither are we resolving in the present case the question of whether the shares held by Respondent Cojuangco are,
as he claims, the result of private enterprise. This factual matter should also be taken up in the final decision in the
cited cases that are pending in the court a quo. Again suffice it to say that the only issue settled here is the right of
PCGG to vote the sequestered shares, pending the final outcome of said cases.
This matter involving the coconut levy funds and the sequestered UCPB shares has been straddling the courts for
about 15 years. What we are discussing in the present Petition, we stress, is just an incident of the main cases which
are pending in the anti-graft court – the cases for the reconveyance, reversion and restitution to the State of these
UCPB shares.

The resolution of the main cases has indeed been long overdue. Every effort, both by the parties and the
Sandiganbayan, should be exerted to finally settle this controversy.

WHEREFORE, the Petition is hereby GRANTED and the assailed Order SET ASIDE. The PCGG shall continue
voting the sequestered shares until Sandiganbayan Civil Case Nos. 0033-A, 0033-B and 0033-F are finally and
completely resolved. Furthermore, the Sandiganbayan is ORDERED to decide with finality the aforesaid civil cases
within a period of six (6) months from notice. It shall report to this Court on the progress of the said cases every three
(3) months, on pain of contempt. The Petition in Intervention is DISMISSED inasmuch as the reliefs prayed for are
not covered by the main issues in this case. No costs